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Field Division of Education
The History of Scotts Bluff Nebraska
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When the white trapper and trader (Frenchman, Englishman, and Spaniard) first invaded his lands, the Indian of the Great Plains was contemptuous of their insignificant numbers. These white men were too few to become powerful enemies, they brought desirable trade goods (including "firewater"), and there was enough of Nature's bounty for all, anyway. In time the traders intermarried with the Indian tribes and coalitions arose. These opposing combinations often resulted in a few traders and trappers losing their lives, or at best their livestock and supplies, but the total loss of life and property at Indian hands was quite small throughout the period of 1800-1840.

Only with the coming of the Oregon-California emigrants did the Indians begin to realize the power and future of the conquering whites. The buffalo became a little less numerous, and various epidemic diseases began to take an increasing toll of the aborigines. It was not, however, until the throngs of the California emigration, 1849-59, pushed across the plains, slaughtering countless buffalo, stripping the forage along the migration routes, and filtering out into the Indian country, that the Red Man began to take positive action. By that time the Pawnee had relinquished all rights (1833) to lands south of the Platte and east of the Forks. North and west of that line were the restless and powerful Teton Dakota, with their allies, the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

The United States Government had placed these Indians, in 1846, in the Upper Platte and Arkansas Agency, under the able old mountaineer, Thomas Fitzpatrick. During his period of office until his death in 1854, there was comparatively little trouble with these Indians. In fact, in 1851 there was engineered, through Fitzpatrick, Father De Smet, Jim Bridger, Robert Campbell, D. D. Mitchell, and some others, the greatest Indian peace council ever held in the Plains. In September of 1851 between 8,000 and 12,000 Dakota, Cheyennes, Arapaho, Crow, Snakes, Rees, Assiniboines, and Gros Ventres assembled at Ft. Laramie, then moved down to camping grounds at the mouth of Horse Creek, a few miles from Scotts Bluff. The Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Dakota camped along the north bank of the Platte; the American Commissioners occupied the peninsula between the streams; and the troops and visiting tribes encamped around the treaty ground south of Horse Creek. Due in part to the presence of De Smet and Fitzpatrick (the two most trusted white men on the Great Plains), the Treaty Council went smoothly and the Indians promised peace and free passage of emigrants through their lands in return for annual allowances. This treaty was evidently entered into in good faith by all.1

In August of 1854 an unfortunate misunderstanding over an emigrant's cow led to the slaughter of Lt. Gratten and 30 men at a spot about eight miles below Ft. Laramie. This massacre was dreadfully revenged the next year by the decimation of a Brule band on the Blue Water Creek, a few miles north of Ash Hollow, in September of 1855 by forces under General Harney. Thereafter the Indians were more wary, but their hatred increased steadily. Solemn treaties and promises of the government to the Indians were repudiated, invalidated, forgotten, or calmly broken by crooked agents, scheming politicians, and egotistical whites who held that an Indian had no inherent rights.

In 1861 the Arapaho and Upper Arkansas Cheyenne were requested (or forced) to cede their lands in Nebraska south of the North Platte. This opened wide the roads west, but put fear into the hearts of the Indians, who wondered when the Great Father in Washington would cease to take their lands away. Already the buffalo was perceptibly reduced in numbers, and starvation often stared the Plains Indians in the face. The Civil War among the whites gave the Indians their chance, and the Sioux broke out in Minnesota and Dakota. The movement spread and soon embraced all of the northern Plains Indians. In the fall of 1863 there was held in Horse Creek Valley, not far from Scotts Bluff, the greatest war council in the history of Plains Indian tribes. During the following years, 1863-1865, the Dakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapaho terrorized the entire Kansas, Nebraska, Dakota country, the Brule and Ogallala bands of the North Platte country doing the most damage.

At the end of the Civil War the army was sent in some force to the Indian frontier, and a council was called for Ft. Laramie in June, 1866. Red Cloud (an Ogallala, born on the North Platte) and some others bolted the conference, which was leading toward a cession of road rights (The Bozeman Trail) through the Dakotas' western hunting grounds. So capably did Red Cloud (one of the greatest warriors in American Indian history) wage battle that in April, 1863, the Ft. Laramie treaty resulted in complete victory for the Dakotas. After this year Red Cloud never fought again against the Americans. During the period July, 1871 - August, 1873, Red Cloud and his followers had an agency opposite the mouth of Horse Creek, about one mile west of modern Henry, Nebraska. In September, 1872, there was lodged here (at what became known as the Old Red Cloud Agency) 6,320 Tetons, mainly Ogallala and Upper Brule; 1,515 Cheyenne; and 1,342 Arapaho. When the agency was moved north in 1873, the Scots Bluff area saw the last of her Indian children.

The further story of the Indian in the northern Great Plains simmers down to two events. Rumors of gold in the Black Hills (known for a generation to De Smet and certain other ethical white men) led the government to send Custer to reconnoitre them in 1874, and Lt. R. I. Dodge and Prof. Jenney to survey them in 1875. The assurance of great riches led many American prospectors to invade the Black Hills, despite Army and Indian prohibitions. The final upshot of the matter was that several American forces were sent into the field. These forces were out-maneuvered severally by Crazy Horse, Gall, Sitting Bull, and Black Moon, and Gen. Custer's forces were wiped out at the Little Big Horn in June, 1876. The Indians, lacking munitions and food, could not resist for any length of time, and they soon capitulated. By treaty of October, 1876, the Dakotas became reservation Indians, and the Black Hills were thrown open. Years later, in 1890, the Ghost Dance, or Messiah War, involved a few misguided Indians in the Dakotas. That ended the last of Indian influence upon the history of this region.2

The chief effect the Indian wars (1862-76) had upon the Scotts Bluff area, outside of the Indian removal from the Agency to a distant reservation, was the creation of Ft. Mitchell as an adjunct of Ft. Laramie. In 1863 or 1864 Captain Shuman of the 11th Ohio Cavalry built Camp Shuman, three miles west of Scotts Bluff gap (Mitchell Pass), in the NE corner of SW 1/4 Section 20, Township 22 N, Range 55 W. Its name was changed to Ft. Mitchell, in honor of General Robert B. Mitchell, then commander of the district. Mrs. Carrington, going up the Bozeman Trail with her husband, Colonel Carrington, commented in 1866 on its situation at the very foot of Scotts Bluff.3 Bozeman trail is controversial. Hebard and Brininstool (op. cit., II, p. 114) cite Col. Carrington to the effect that the Bozeman Trail began at Ft. Sedgewick and led north through Ft. Mitchell, Ft. Laramie, etc.


  1. Hafen and Ghent: Broken Hand, pp. 191-245.
  2. Lowe: Five Years a Dragoon, pp. 77-92.
  3. Senate Document 1, Pt. 3, 32nd Congress, 1st Session (1851), p. 325.

2The Indian history, 1850-1890, is discussed in:

  1. Morton: History of Nebraska (1906), Vol. 2, pp. 139-262.
  2. Doane Robinson: A Comprehensive History of the Dakotas (1904).
  3. Articles on Fight at Ash Hollow, in Neb. State Hist. Soc. Coll., Vol. 16 (1911).
  4. Indian Cessions, in B.A.E., 18th Annual Report.
  5. E. S. Curtis: The North American Indian, Vols. 3, 6, 19 (1907-1930).
  6. A. H. Abel: Indian Consolidation West of the Mississippi, in Amer. Hist. Assn. Ann. Report (1906).
  7. A. Watkins: Red Cloud Agency, in Neb. State Hist. Soc. Pub., Vol. 19, pp. 108-109 (1919).
  8. E. A. Brininstool: Fighting Red Cloud's Warriors (1926).
  9. "Chief Crazy Horse," in Neb. History Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 1 (1929).
  10. C. E. De Land: The Sioux Wars (1930), pp. 32-38.
  11. Alban Hoopes: Indian Affairs and Their Administration (1932).

3Frances Carrington: My Army Life (1910), pp. 41-43.

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